Wednesday, December 10, 2008


why doesn’t Chomsky leave America?” This is the question I have been asked whenever I presented Chomsky’s political writings, whether in a classroom or at a seminar. The same happened in the recent seminar on Chosmky in Pondicherry too. I had never any problem in answering it, because Chomsky has answered it himself. What he has said is essentially the following: there is space for dissent in America, and it is still a great country as far as freedom of expression is concerned. Terry Eagleton writes that Chomsky is “offered a bodyguard when he speaks on US campuses”. The article does not say anything about whether security is provided to him at his request, or it is a State initiative, etc. Of course more often than not, bodyguards mean hardly anything more than symbolic. Not that symbols do not matter. In this case it clearly does. There may not be many countries in the world where an intellectual dissenter is provided security to disseminate his views - the one who has been relentlessly criticizing the State policy, especially its foreign policy, for about four decades. In any case, some delegates in the Pondicherry seminar were dissatisfied with Chomsky’s answer. They felt that he was somewhat cynically exploiting the decency and generosity of the State.

Actually it is not why Chomsky lives where he does, that is of interest to me here, it is the attitude of those who ask this question that does, which is this: if you think this place is so bad, leave!

There is arguably nothing very unusual about it. Sometimes one dissociates oneself from one’s family when one finds the atmosphere unbearable. Many support this attitude; they think that instead of constantly finding fault with others in the family, even with the best of intentions, one should leave. It is better to part in peace than stay and create an unhappy environment. Whatever merit there may be to this attitude, there is a problem when one has the same attitude towards a dissenter in the larger context of the State.

There are well known intellectuals in our country who criticize the policies of the State and the Union government. Should we ask them to leave the state or the country, as the case may be, I asked those delegates in Pondicherry. They didn’t say “no”, neither of course did they say “yes”; they just didn’t answer, and that’s something that I find worrisome.

India is the best example of a plural country; no country in the world shows so much variety as does India. Here it is not at all unexpected that the interests of two groups would sometimes clash. Exclusion of someone for his views because some others find them unacceptable is something that our country cannot just afford.

However, whatever they may say in private, I do not know of anyone in India who in public has demanded that a critic of the Indian state should leave the country. Americans may ask that question to Chomsky, but why must we accord legitimacy to that question here by raising it, even at a seminar?

1 comment:

oddity said...

thanks for this post!
silence of the delegates IS worrisome!

tolerance to the voice of dissent is the indicator of progress of a society!these are after all Shaw's "unreasonable men"!

"A reasonable man adapts himself to his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." -shaw